• Published 6th May 2013
  • 8,172 Views, 413 Comments

The Sword Coast - AdrianVesper

With a price on Twilight Sparkle’s head and the shadow of death on her heels, her only hope for salvation is the Magic of Friendship. (Baldur’s Gate Crossover)

  • ...



Late the next morning, Twilight and her friends sat across from a regal, ruby-colored unicorn at a table in one of the Helping Hoof’s rooms. A cloak of expensive furs draped across his broad shoulders accompanied his sculpted golden mane. His face was uncannily perfect, and the only blemish Twilight could see on his toned body was a small scar in the center of his chest directly to the left of his sternum. On the whole, she might’ve found him attractive if it weren’t for the way he looked disdainfully down at everypony with his nose in the air.

A small group of attendants hovered around him on his side of the table. “Now that all the important parties have representation, we can begin,” one of them said, inclining his head first to Bon-Bon sitting at the end of the table, then to Applejack.

Twilight glanced at the innkeeper. Bon-Bon practically hovered over her chair, her hooves poised nervously on the edge of the table. Lyra sat beside her, calmer, but watching Bon-Bon with worry.

“Let it be stated for the record that Granny Smith’s representative delayed me here at this... inn for a whole day,” the noble said while wiping dust off of one of his manicured forehooves.

“Yes, Lord Ruby,” a unicorn scribe beside him said and set his quill to a long, blank scroll that spilled off the edge of the table.

“Let it be stated that I arrived as soon as can be expected, given the late hour of the message,” Applejack said, her voice low and angry.

When the scribe stopped writing and stared blankly at Applejack, Lord Ruby chuckled. “You seem to forget who’s paying my scribe, Miss Applejack.”

“I should have seen this coming,” Rarity whispered to Twilight. “We need to play his game.”

“Spike, take a record,” Twilight said.

Spike produced a sheet of paper and a quill with a burst of green dragonfire. “On it!” He immediately began to write.

Twilight glimpsed a momentary flash of anger in Lord Ruby’s eyes, but when he spoke, his tone was as calm and mocking as ever. “It appears your pet can scribble... fascinating.”

Twilight furrowed her brows, his words digging under her skin. Her swords were right outside the negotiating room with the other weapons. She could have them in a moment. She doubted he would be insulting anyone when he had Solstice’s razor sharp edge shoved up one of his nostrils.

No... that’s not the solution here, she told herself, suppressing her violent urge.

Twilight glanced at where Spike was writing beside her. He appeared to be focused on his task and doing better than she was at ignoring Lord Ruby’s words.

“Something the matter?” the Lord asked.

It took Twilight a moment to realize he was addressing her. “Nothing...” she growled.

“You don’t have much poise for a unicorn, unlike your friend,” he said, turning to Rarity. “You seem familiar... Rarity, isn’t it? We met a few years ago, when I was on a diplomatic trip to Canterlot.”

“You have a good memory,” Rarity said.

“I could never forget the name that goes with such a beautiful mare,” he said as he gazed at Rarity. “I never did see you again after our date. I thought it went swimmingly.”

Spike broke his quill, spilling a splotch of black ink all over his scroll.

“I seem to remember you failing to pay the waiter and the night ending in disaster,” Rarity said.

“I never did find my coin purse.” Lord Ruby mused.

“That’s too bad,” Rarity said, and Twilight caught the corner of Rarity’s mouth rising into a smirk.

“Can we get to the point already?!” Rainbow interjected.

“Pegasi – never patient.” Lord Ruby shook his head in disappointment. “Very well. The point is that I’ll be Baron of Ponyville in two weeks. In three weeks, I’ll be back to discuss the taxes that need to be paid to fund my campaign against the bandits, retroactively for the past year, of course. Additionally, I’ll need some land to construct a new manor in Ponyville. I can’t exactly govern without a residence, after all.”

He smirked at Applejack. “I hear there’s a nice hill where you can see the emerald expanse of the Everfree Forest that would be a perfect spot.”

Applejack glared at Lord Ruby. “Your title ain’t confirmed yet, and it never will be.”

Lord Ruby laughed darkly. “You’re mistaken, Applejack; the Duchesses are very supportive of me. I have full confidence that they will make the right decision. It’s inevitable. I was required to inform Granny Smith that I will be her new Baron.” He dipped his head almost imperceptibly. “Consider her informed.”

“What do you want with our town?” Applejack asked. “We never did anything to you!”

“Oh, you mean besides money and power?” He leaned forward, setting his hooves on the table. “I enjoy taking things away from creatures who try to rise above their station.”

“By the time the Duchesses meet, there won’t be a Cloakwood Gang,” Twilight said.

“Oh really? What’re you going to do, find their lair and kill them all with your six mare band? In less than two weeks?” He scoffed.

“Yes,” Twilight said.

“You’ll find you’re biting off more than you can chew... it might make you into a mouthful.” Lord Ruby said with a smirk. “The Cloakwood Gang has only been located once. A single Flaming Wing pegasus came back from a mission that actually managed to find their hideout. Somehow, she escaped... or perhaps, they let her go as a warning. Either way, she’d been tortured, and all anypony could get out of her was something about beasts of fire.”

He stood up from the table. “We’re done here.” He strode toward the door. He paused in the doorway, his servants scrambling to catch up, and fixed his gaze on Bon-Bon. “Three weeks, and I expect my fortress to be cleared out for my garrison.” He was gone a moment later.

“I can be very patient...” Fluttershy mumbled.

“This place... it’s everything to me... where will the guests go?” Bon-Bon said, sinking into her seat.

“Hey, chin up! We asked Granny Smith for help, and she sent some,” Lyra said.

Pinkie smiled. “That’s right!”

“Don’t you worry; we’ll fix this,” Applejack said.

Twilight smiled at the grateful look in Bon-Bon’s eyes. “We will,” she said. “Something about him was... off,” she added, looking out the door.

“I know what you mean. A pony as loaded as him shouldn’t be safe on the Coast Road without at least twenty armed guards, and he only has a dozen.” Applejack said. “He seems... familiar somehow. Was there anything in the stuff we found about a Lord Ruby?”

“No, but there’s supposed to be a noble connected to the Iron Circle who’s overseeing the bandits,” Twilight said.

“I’ll reckon it’s him,” Applejack said.

“He’s crafty, I’ll give him that,” Rarity said. “If he’s actually going to get rid of the Cloakwood Gang, he’s playing both sides... we shouldn’t underestimate him.”

Twilight nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind... but either way, he’s going down. We’ll use the mirror to send a message to the Cloakwood Gang. They’ll take us right to them. We’ll blend in, and take out their leadership when we have the right opportunity.”

That evening, they ventured off the Coast Road and into the depths of Cloakwood.

Twilight’s mind thrummed with magical power as she walked beneath Cloakwood’s canopy. She’d prepared a slew of high level spells, some of which she’d only seen Star Swirl cast once. This time, she’d pushed herself to her limits when she’d readied her magic, and she almost failed with some of the harder spells. Additionally, she was using Solstice as a Sequencer that held completed spells, rather than using it to ease the burden on her mind. This time she was confident she was using every tool at her disposal. With all of the power she held, she hoped she wouldn’t fail again.

Twilight lead her party through the forest toward a clearing where they were supposed to meet the Cloakwood Gang. She stopped short when a web of thick spider silk blocked their path. She glanced down, checking the directions they’d received through the mirror.

“Whoops,” she said.

“Wrong turn?” Applejack asked.

“Yes, well... unless this is recent.” Twilight peered at one of the fibers. “What’d make a web this thick anyway?”

Rainbow pointed at the trees above them. “There’s your answer.”

Twilight looked up. A giant spider, twice as big as she was, lurked in the branches. It stared at her with eight dull eyes, waiting to pounce. “We should probably go around,” Twilight said.

Later, while they were sitting around a campfire eating supper, finally in the right spot, she heard a voice.

“Raven,” someone called from the edge of the clearing.

“Feather,” Twilight answered with the countersign.

Twilight and her friends rose warily with their weapons ready as four armed figures in black cloaks creeped out of the undergrowth, surrounding them.

“Ah, so you’re the new recruits,” a griffon wearing wingblades and holding a crossbow said. She tossed back her hood, revealing her white feathered head. “At least you look more capable than the last bunch... except for you.” She eyed Fluttershy with disdain.

Fluttershy looked absolutely terrified. Trembling next to Rainbow Dash, she whispered something, and the blue pegasus extended a wing protectively around her. Angel glared at the griffon venomously from Fluttershy’s mane.

“We work as a team,” Twilight said.

“Gotcha – thieves with honor.” The griffon nodded. She approached Twilight, extending a claw in greeting. “Name’s Gilda. I’ll take you to see the Boss.”

Twilight extended her hoof and accepted the shake. “Midnight Shine,” she said. Rarity had modified Twilight’s mark with dye, just in case.

“Wait a second...” Gilda said, staring at Rainbow. “I’d know that mane anywhere.”

Twilight laced her magic around her swords.

Gilda laughed. “You turned to a life of crime? I didn’t think you had it in you... wow!” She looked at Fluttershy again. “And you brought your little friend? How’d you get her free?”

“You made her into a slave!” Rainbow said, glaring.

“Rainbow... remember why we’re here,” Twilight said quietly as she relaxed her guard.

“Yeah! To join up.” Gilda snickered. “Leave your problems at the door, junior speedster and cloud destroyer extraordinaire!”

Rainbow lunged forward with her wings flared. “You want a fight? I’ll give you a fight!”

“Rainbow!” Twilight shouted.

“Aww Dash, I was just kidding. Can’t you take a joke? We’re on the same team now.” Gilda turned back toward the forest. “Come on, I’ll show you groundwalkers the way. No spiderwebs, I promise.”

“That wasn’t a funny joke,” Pinkie said.

“Come on, Gilda, don’t you want to know what happened to the rubber chicken?” Pinkie said.

Twilight groaned inwardly. Pinkie had been incessantly telling nonsensical jokes to Gilda for the entire duration of the trip to the bandit’s camp, probably to get on the griffon’s nerves. It had amused Twilight at first, but now it only irritated her.

“If I told you that we were there, would you shut up?” Gilda said, apparently sharing Twilight’s sentiment.

“Maaaybe...” Pinkie said.

“Then we’re here,” Gilda said.

“Where?” Pinkie said. “All I see are trees...” She blew a raspberry at one of the trees. “Ominous, scary looking trees... Oooh!” She pointed between the trunks. “Ruins!”

Twilight peered through the trees. In the dim light of dusk, she couldn’t make out whatever Pinkie was pointing at. After following Gilda for a few more steps, she made out a faint, fiery glow. A little further, and she emerged from the trees. An overgrown stone amphitheater formed a depression in the ground in front of her. Stumps marked where a few stubborn trees had cracked the masonry with their roots, only to be cut down.

A thousand ponies must’ve sat here – once... Twilight thought.

Beyond the amphitheater, Twilight saw a massive stone structure coated in vegetation looming above them. Crumbling ruins spread out from the base and spilled around the amphitheater. The faint shapes of ponies and other creatures lurked among the ruins, probably the bandits of the Cloakwood gang. She spotted the glow of a few fires, but the flames themselves were hidden within the structures around the theater or in hollows where the stepped seating used to be.

A rugged wooden structure stood on the flat stone covering the central stage of the theater. The wall facing them was open, and inside, she saw a blue-furred minotaur seated on a stone throne, illuminated by a pair of blazing torches mounted beside him. Crates and chests were piled behind him.

Gilda led them toward the minotaur. As they descended the cracked steps, Twilight had the uneasy sense of being watched, and she noticed small groups of bandits gathering on the edge of the ring. As they approached, the minotaur shifted a stocky shortbow out of his lap and stood. With a smile on his face, he spread his arms wide.

“So you’re the new recruits! Welcome,” he said.

Twilight nodded respectfully. “I’m told you’re in charge.”

“I’m the Boss, and as far as you’re concerned, I’m in charge. I talk to the Big Guy.”

“The Big Guy?” Twilight asked.

“You don’t want to meet him; if you did, you’d be dead.” The minotaur chuckled. “If he thought you looked tasty, anyway...”

“Boss is a funny name,” Pinkie said.

The minotaur chuckled again. “Name’s Iron Will, and welcome to our little slice of paradise. If you’ve come here, you’re tired of playing by somepony else’s rules, being pushed around, and being thrown in prison. Here, you’ll get three square meals a day. You’ll get paid, regardless of if you take in loot or not. I’ll give you the opportunity to be a winner, instead of flattened beneath society’s hoof.”

While he spoke, Rarity whispered in Twilight’s ear. “I don’t like this.” She glanced up at the amphitheater around them.

Twilight followed her gaze. At least fifty ponies, griffons, and minotaurs were watching, armed with bows, crossbows, slings, and javelins. Three ogres stood at the top of the steps behind them.

“The Big Guy has three rules, though,” Iron Will said. “They’re really simple, and I’m sure they won’t get in the way of your fun. Rule one: No fighting with other Gang members on a whim. If you want to schedule a throw down, you can throw down, but I can’t have scuffs and murders happening anywhere, anytime. Rule number two: Our job is to make the Coast Road impassable. I don’t care if you kill, maim or torture. What you bring back comes to me. You get a ten percent cut in addition to your salary. If you try and cheat me and hide loot, I will kill you.”

Twilight warily glanced around. She caught Gilda slowly slinking away from them. There were at least a hundred ponies assembled now.

“Actually, I lied. Those are both the rules. But I have one special rule that applies just to you, Midnight Shine, or should I say, Twilight Sparkle?”

Twilight’s eyes widened, and she took a step back.

“Sorry Dash, business is business,” Gilda said, and spread her wings, flapping away to join the ranks formed on the seating of the amphitheater around them.

Iron Will picked up his bow. “What? You didn’t think the Iron Circle wouldn’t let me know that a certain mirror was compromised, did you? Iron Will is no fool. Your little message wasn’t all that subtle... I’m not afraid.”

Oh no, Twilight thought.

“Twilight, what’d you do?” Rarity asked.

“She made this easy for me, that’s what she did,” Iron Will said as he methodically picked up his bow.

“Girls, close your eyes when I raise my sword,” Twilight whispered while Iron Will spoke.

Iron Will nocked an arrow. “My special rule for you is: don’t kill my kin. Rumor has it that my brother went after you and didn’t come back.”

“What’re you planning, Twilight?” Applejack said quietly.

“The five thousand is an added bonus...” Iron Will said.

“Just trust me,” Twilight whispered.

Iron Will raised his bow, shouting, “Twilight is mine!”

Twilight drew Celestial Fury. Before Iron Will had even begun to draw back the bow’s string, she pointed the blade toward the sky and closed her eyes tight.

Please work...

A painfully bright flash of sunlight lanced through her eyelids. After she opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was the tip of Iron Will’s arrow, the bow drawn by his coiled arm. Tears glistened in his squinted eyes, reflecting the fading glow of her sword.

As Iron Will’s arrow jumped from the string, Twilight triggered the Sequencer in Solstice. A lavender shield lit when the arrow stuck it, shattering the missile, but the sheer strength of Iron Will’s bow allowed the forward fragment to cut a hole through the shield and spin beyond. It hit her sideways, and the piece of the wooden shaft still attached to the arrowhead drew a stripe of pain across her chest through her mage armor. While Twilight watched the broken arrow fall, Applejack’s chain punched through the air. Twilight flicked her eyes back up and saw the spike impaled precisely between Iron Will’s eyes.

With the immediate threat eliminated, the world around her returned to focus. They had a few seconds, at best, before the bandits around them recovered, and a volley of slung, launched, and thrown missiles saturated the center of the theater. Her Sequencer had included a Mirror Image spell, but it would do little to protect her from the sheer volume of fire, and that said nothing for her friends. Past the wooden structure in the center of the ring, she made out an entrance into the ruins.

“We’ll lose them in there!” she shouted and sprinted for it.

Mist rose up around her hooves, and she glanced over her shoulder. The rest of the group followed her, but Fluttershy lingered behind them, her eyes glowing, Angel shielding her from the inevitable volley of fire. Twilight stopped immediately. The rest of the group blazed past her, unaware.

“Fluttershy! There’s no time!” Twilight yelled.

“I’m making time...” Fluttershy answered.

As the words left Fluttershy’s mouth, a wall of thick fog blocked Twilight’s view.

Projectiles riddled the amphitheater stage, wispy lines of turbulence lingering behind them as they streaked through the white mist. The stones around her clattered with the sound of metal. Three of her images vanished. Missiles bruised her through her cloak and her armor, but mercifully, none penetrated. Through the mist, from Fluttershy’s position, she heard the thunk of arrows striking wood and one fleshy impact.

Fluttershy’s cry of pain filled Twilight’s ears, and she lifted her hoof to run back to help Fluttershy.

“I’ve got her! Get out of here!” Rainbow shouted as she shot past Twilight in the air.

Nodding, Twilight swallowed, made her best guess at the direction of the entrance to the ruins, and galloped into the mist. She joined the three others in a crumbling stone corridor, the white fog whisping at the door. She noted with relief that they were unharmed. Confused shouting followed her from outside.

“Where are they!”

“I can’t make them out!”

“Did we get them?”

“Where are you?”

She recognized the last voice. Rainbow Dash, she realized. She opened her mouth to call back, but before she could gather the air in her lungs, Rarity held a hoof to her mouth.

“Shhh!” Rarity hissed. “I’ll show them the way.”

Rarity closed her eyes, and a series of dancing lights jumped from her horn, forming a line trailing into the mist. They waited in silence for a few tense moments. When Rainbow emerged from the mist with Fluttershy draped across her back and a foreleg looped around a small Angel, Twilight let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

“Ugh... moving through that stuff is like swimming... she’s pretty bad,” Rainbow said, panting.

Twilight’s relief was short lived. When Rainbow lowered Fluttershy to the stone floor, Twilight saw a bolt sticking out from between the yellow pegasus’s ribs. Fluttershy whimpered with each shallow breath she took. Angel snuggled up to her face, worry in his small animal eyes.

“I’m... sorry,” Fluttershy murmured, nuzzling her bunny.

Rarity approached. “Darling, if I pull this out, will you be able to heal yourself?”

Fluttershy closed her eyes and nodded.

Twilight could see the pain on Fluttershy’s face as Rarity carefully extracted the bolt. The head suddenly jumped free, and Fluttershy’s eyes shot open, a gasp escaping her lips. When her eyes slid closed again, her chest seized.

Fluttershy stopped breathing.

No! Twilight thought. She couldn’t bear another funeral filled with lies and loss. She shot forward, and placed her hoof on the wound. The magic – the healing – it wouldn’t come. It was just beyond reach.

“Somepony do something!” Rainbow cried, hovering over Fluttershy. “Can’t anypony do anything?”

”What? You didn’t think there wouldn’t be a price for turning away from me, did you?” the voice from her nightmares whispered in her mind.

“Twilight... you can’t help her...” Applejack said, her voice on the verge of breaking.

“I’m going to heal her,” Twilight said.

“You can’t!” Applejack yelled.

“She can,” Pinkie said.

With Pinkie’s confident words in her ears, Twilight closed her eyes and dove back into her mind. There was a barrier between her and the power she’d drawn on before, but the power belonged to her, not the spectre of shadow in her dreams. Though Fluttershy was on the brink of death, she knew the pegasus was still alive, and she had the power to save her friend.

All I have to do is take what is mine... I’m not going to fail again! Twilight thought.

She reached out for her inner strength, bending it to her desire. The barrier shattered before her will, and she felt Fluttershy’s chest stir beneath her forehoof. In her mind, the voice screamed in rage.

“You did it, Twilight,” Pinkie said, her voice chasing away the echos of the scream.

Twilight breathed a sigh of relief and opened her eyes. Pinkie’s hoof rested comfortingly on her back. Fluttershy’s chest calmly rose and fell. Her eyes were still shut, but she would live.

Applejack picked Fluttershy up, and the pegasus murmured softly. While she positioned Fluttershy on her back, she nodded toward the mist in the doorway. “That isn’t going to last much longer.”

Twilight followed Applejack’s gaze. She could already glimpse torches through the fog and shapes moving in the central ring of the theater. Soon, the mist would provide no protection at all.

“Ah, here we are,” Gilda said, her voice emanating from the middle of the amphitheater. “If you want to catch wounded prey, follow the blood.”

“It leads into the ruins. We can’t go in there! You know the rules...” another bandit said.

“Who says you’re in charge, anyway?” yet another voice said.

“Iron Will, that’s who! He’s dead now, and I was his second. That means I’m in charge!” Gilda shouted. “Do you want to make five hundred bits or not?”

“Come on,” Applejack said. “We’d best get deeper before they make up their minds.” She set off down the passage.

“So you aren’t going to yell at me?” Twilight said as they walked down a passageway.

Their path wound and twisted, and she hoped they could find another exit. Often, they had to detour around collapsed passages or rubble blocking their path. At first, she could glimpse stars through cracks in the roof, but within a few minutes they must have moved underground. Now, the only light came from the unicorn’s horns.

“Nope,” Applejack said. “What you did was stupid, but I think you saw the consequences.”

Rarity nodded in agreement. “Though the worst part was you didn’t tell any of us about the message you sent. What were you thinking?”

“I don’t know...” Twilight murmured. “I... guess I didn’t think they’d know which mirror it came from. It was an impulse. I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you,” Fluttershy said. Mercifully, the pegasus was back on her own hooves. Once she had regained consciousness, she’d healed herself fully. “I shouldn’t have slowed down to cast that spell anyway...”

“If you hadn’t, all of us wouldn’t have escaped,” Rainbow said.

“I’m more curious how you healed Fluttershy,” Applejack said. “That wasn’t wizard magic.”

“And you’re eyes didn’t glow when you performed the spell, so you’re not like any cleric I’ve seen,” Rarity observed.

“She’s part god!” Pinkie said.

Twilight blinked at Pinkie. “What?”

“Healing magic is divine right? And last time, you said it came from within! It’s the only explanation!” Pinkie said.

“Last time?” Applejack said.

“Before we met you,” Twilight explained.

“Or, she’s blessed by Celestia. The goddess sure seems to like her,” Rarity suggested.

Twilight stared at the floor of the passage. She knew Pinkie was at least partially right – her power belonged to her – but she said nothing. She’d rather her friends think that Celestia had chosen her then tell them the details of her nightmares and her power.

Further into the ruins, Fluttershy abruptly sagged against the wall. “I hear... screaming,” she said.

Twilight perked her ears and peered down the corridor they were in. At first, she heard nothing, then a mournful howl echoed down the crumbling tunnel. Ahead, around a bend, she saw the glow of flames.

“They’re burning... forever,” Fluttershy murmured, shuddering.

“Who, Fluttershy?” Twilight asked, glancing back at the pegasus.

“Them! We have to put them out!” Fluttershy said, her unblinking gaze focused on the glow spilling around the corner.

Twilight looked back down the passage, and she saw a wolf’s head made from burning wood emerge from around the bend. It glared at her with flaming eyes and stepped out into the passage. The scorched charcoal branches and logs that made up its body glowed with heat, and everburning flames licked at its back. Two smaller wolves flanked the first, similarly ablaze.

“Uh... Fluttershy... can you talk to them? You talked to Timberwolves once.” Rainbow said.

Fluttershy shook her head. “They’re Emberwolves... he’s making them do this! We need to put them out!”

The wolves gradually stalked towards them, as if hunting prey. Twilight drew her swords.

“Don’t!” Fluttershy said. “If you just destroy them, they’ll never be free.”

Rainbow shot two blasts of wind down the passage, but they only fanned the flames. The Emberwolves growled as they approached, fires dancing on their charred teeth.

“Rainbow, when I say ‘now’, do that again, in the other direction,” Twilight said.

“Got it!” Rainbow said.

She launched a Fireball down the corridor. There was just enough space for her to cast the spell without the blast hitting her and her friends. The Emberwolves didn’t flinch as the magical spark shot over their heads, and they didn’t break their stride when the explosion washed down the passage and the heat licked at their heels.

“Now!” Twilight shouted.

Rainbow twisted, arcing her wings through the air. The twin gusts pulled the dead air left in the Fireball’s wake down the corridor. The Emberwolves’ flames flickered, then died out. They staggered, but parts of them still glowed.

“Any other ideas?” Applejack said. “If we don’t finish this soon, we’re going to have to smash—”

Before Applejack finished her sentence, thick roots broke through the roof of the passage above the Emberwolves. In a roar of falling rock and dirt, crumbling masonry buried the Emberwolves, suffocating them.

A glow faded from Fluttershy’s eyes as she stared at the debris. Tears clung to her lower eyelids. “How horrible does someone have to be to do that to another creature?” she said as she approached the rubble. “Don’t worry, you’re free now. Go back to the forest.”

She’s talking to the wolves, Twilight realized. She respectfully kept her distance and noticed that the rest of the group was doing the same. Applejack held her hat against her chest.

Fluttershy breathed gently on the rubble, and a wisp of green leaves spilled out from beneath the crumbled masonry, lifted into the air by an ethereal wind. Two more groups of leaves followed and gusted past Twilight, filling her lungs with a sweet natural scent, but the first lingered. The leaves swirled around Fluttershy until they alighted on her cloak.

“Oh no, you don’t have to do that... you’re free!” Fluttershy said, looking over her shoulder at her cloak as the leaves became one with the fabric. “Um... well, if you insist, I guess it’s okay... thank you.”

Pinkie raised her hoof to point at a side passage. “I’ll bet that goes around.”

Applejack placed her hat back on her head. “We’d best keep moving.”

They found the Emberwolves’ lair, a small room with blackened marks on the stone and stairs leading up. They took the stairs, hoping they would lead them to an exit. Halfway up the steps, Twilight glimpsed moonlight, and at the top, they arrived in a courtyard surrounded by stone walls. She could tell from the cracked stone paths and rectangles of exposed ground that this place held a garden not unlike Candlekeep’s. Now, the courtyard held only ashes and the charred remains of plants – perhaps the work of the Emberwolves, or the creature of fire that had entrapped them.

Above them loomed the same structure she’d seen from the amphitheater. From the distance they’d traveled underground, she guessed that they were on the far side. Wide steps lead up to a massive doorway. The wooden gates that once closed the entrance had long since rotted away, leaving only rusty hinges behind. An inscription was carved above the doorway. It read: ‘The Sister’s School for gi—’ Whatever words remained had crumbled away, lost to time.

“How much ya’ wanna bet the ‘Big Guy’ is in there?” Applejack said, flicking her muzzle toward the large structure.

“Rainbow Dash, could you fly up and take a look around? I’d like a better sense of where we are... don’t get spotted,” Twilight said.

“Sure,” Rainbow said, “and I won’t.” A moment later, she disappeared into the night sky.

Twilight trotted toward the steps, struck by her surroundings. They’re all gone... she thought. Whoever used to live here, they were no more, and there was no life here. At least the bridge had someone living there. The maw of the open door dominated the top of the steps, and she wanted to know the history that lay in the shadows beyond.

Her eyes widened in surprise when a pony appeared in the doorway. “Twilight Sparkle, I’m surprised you made it this far,” he said.

Twilight brightened her horn enough to light his face. Lord Ruby smirked down at her. “What are you doing here?!” she yelled.

“This is my home, of course,” Lord Ruby said. “In a way, I’m glad you could make it.” He turned his gaze away from Twilight, and focused on Applejack. “Especially you, little Apple.”

Applejack glared up at Lord Ruby. “What’re you talking about?”

“You don’t remember me, Applejack? I’m hurt...” Lord Ruby said. “You all should come inside. I have something to show you, and I think you’ll realize why you can’t save Ponyville.” He twirled, his red cloak billowing behind him, and disappeared through the doorway.

Applejack furrowed her brows, then realization dawned on her features. “It’s him,” she shouted and galloped up the steps.

Twilight blinked. Applejack had the same venom in her voice that Twilight did when she spoke of the Black Knight. Quickly, along with the rest of her group, Twilight rushed after Applejack, but the earth pony was already several strides ahead of them, and she moved up the steps with unmatched zeal.

“Applejack, wait!” Twilight shouted, but Applejack stubbornly followed Lord Ruby through the doorway.

Twilight felt tremors in the ground beneath her hooves as something huge moved inside the structure.

Pinkie reached the top of the stairs first. “We’ve got a little problem... actually, it’s a big problem!”

When Twilight crested the stairs after Pinkie, she could see beyond the threshold. The room inside was a massive banquet hall with a vaulted ceiling. A few chandeliers still dangled above, though most had fallen and shattered on the floor years ago. Above the head of the hall was a gold and silver emblem of the Sun and the Moon in an ever-turning give and take. Three claw marks made by some huge creature scarred the symbol. Applejack’s Stetson lay on the floor in the entrance. A single entity filled the space: a fully grown Dragon.

A coat of thick ruby scales covered his body, pristine except for one hoofspan-wide patch of thin pale scales next to his sternum, tiny in comparison to his bulk. He lay on a pile of gold and gems in the center of the hall. In one gigantic claw, he held Applejack aloft, dozens of hoofspans above the floor.

“Lemme go so I can kill you!” Applejack shouted, struggling in his unyielding grasp.

Twilight drew her swords. “Put her down!” Her own fearlessness surprised her. She was a mouse facing down a wolf, but she was prepared to fight.

The Dragon chuckled, a deep rumbling that echoed inside the hall. He peered down at Twilight with golden eyes as big as she was, his pupils dark vertical slits. “Or what? You can’t hurt me, little pony. My scales shrug off magic, and though your blades can cut through them, your swords are simply too short to penetrate deeply enough to cause me any lasting harm.”

Twilight gritted her teeth. She knew the Dragon was right. “What do you want, Lord Ruby?”

“Lord Ruby... a transient name of fancy, one I wore like the facade of pony nobility. Call me Pyros the Everburning, and what I want is revenge,” Pyros said.

“If what you want is revenge, why don’t you jus’ kill me already!?” Applejack yelled. By closing his claw, the Dragon could extinguish her life in an instant. “Why all this?”

“Ah, my dear Applejack, that would be far too simple. I want you, and all your father’s children, to live. I want you to watch everything you care about crumble away while you sit there, powerless to stop it,” Pyros said.

“You already took our parents from us! What more do you want!?” Applejack roared.

“I had intended to take you from your parents, but they stopped me. This isn’t about you, Applejack, this is about your father.” Pyros said.

“What did my father ever do to you?” Applejack shouted.

“You mean, besides wound me?” He lowered Applejack, holding her directly in front of him. “He took something that I wanted. Eve Orange... a gorgeous mare from an up-and coming merchant family, a perfect bride for my noble identity at the time. Somehow, a dirt-sucking farmer from the countryside swept her off her hooves and carried her away. It was unimaginable – a mere pony could take what a Dragon wanted! He took what was mine, and she left me!”

He laughed darkly. “I had more than enough time to make them pay, though. I let them have two strong children. I let them watch you grow and dream of your futures. Before the glow of the birth of their third child faded, I struck. I arrived at his farm, and challenged him and his wife to meet me in their fields. That way, I could burn their children alive in their house while they watched helplessly.”

Twilight couldn’t see Applejack’s expression, but the earth pony stayed silent while Pyros told his story. “They succeeded in intercepting me. He met me wielding that same chain you carry today, and his cleric wife wore that same old suit of armor,” Pyros said. “Empowered by divine blessings, he hit me with one near-mortal blow. With that chain, he nearly pierced my heart, and in my anger, I made the mistake of crushing them both.”

He clenched his other front claw, treasure clinking around it as he drew gouges in the stone floor beneath his hoard. “But all was not lost. You were still alive. You had watched your parents die. I couldn’t make your father pay, but I could make his children suffer for their entire lives... it took me years to recover from the wound he gave me. I kept the scar to remind me to never lose sight of my revenge, just like you kept one of the fragments of my scales.”

Twilight held up Applejack’s hat. The ruby object sewn into the crease between the brim and crown matched the color of Pyros’s scales perfectly.

“Until the injury subsided, I couldn’t return to pony form, and without disguising myself as a frail mortal, I couldn’t influence your nobility and gain control over your lives.” He looked past Applejack, focusing on Twilight and her friends in the doorway. “Now, my plans are in motion, and you are powerless to stop them. Take her, and go. I want you all to see the folly in challenging a Dragon. Leave this place, leave my bandits alone, or I will kill you all and rely on Russet Apple’s two remaining children for my revenge.”

He roughly set Applejack on the ground near the entrance. As soon as she was free, Applejack snatched her hat out of Twilight’s levitation and placed it on her head. She turned to face Pyros. “If you think we’re just going to walk away—”

“We are,” Twilight interrupted.

“What?” Applejack said, looking at Twilight like she’d been stabbed in the back.

Twilight focused on Applejack. “He’s clearly much too powerful for us to fight. We have to leave.”

Applejack glared at Twilight. She’s not getting it... Twilight groaned inwardly.

Rarity, catching on, said, “Just look at those magnificent scales!”

“Do you trust me, Applejack?” Twilight whispered, hiding her voice behind Rarity’s.

Applejack nickered, but she gave Twilight a tiny nod.

“It’s time to go,” Twilight said, then turned and headed back down the steps. Fortunately, everypony followed, even Applejack.

When she reached the bottom, Applejack prodded her in the chest. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I’m gonna fight that Dragon. If you’re too scared to help, I’ll do it without you!”

“I—” Twilight said.

“He made those Emberwolves...” Fluttershy interrupted. “We have to do something!” She swallowed. “Even though he is a great big Dragon... nobody should be able to do that to a creature and get away with it!”

“So, what’s the plan?” Rarity asked.

Applejack blinked at Rarity. “What plan?”

“Twilight’s plan,” Pinkie said sagely. “She’s a smart cookie!”

“He gave us the opportunity to prepare, and we’re going to take it,” Twilight said, finally able to get a word in edgewise. “If we work together, he won’t know what hit him.”

Rainbow Dash came in for an abrupt landing. “I’ve got good news, and bad news. Bad news is they’ve started poking around in the ruins. We’re a ways away, on the far side of this big place, but they’ll get over here sooner or later. Good news is I wasn’t spotted... so, what’d I miss?”

“Rainbow, how would you like to help us kill a Dragon?” Twilight asked.

“A Dragon? Sweet. What’s the plan?” Rainbow said.

How to kill a Dragon... Twilight thought, poised on the entrance of Pyros the Everburning’s lair, with both her swords and one of the diamond dogs’ wands floating beside her.

Pyros, still in his true form, sniffed the air and looked up from his treasure. His eyes swept over her invisible form, lingering on her visible floating swords. “I smell you, pony. I told you to leave!”

Twilight tripped the wand with a magical flick and launched a cloud of noxious green gas into the center of the great hall. In the blink of an eye, the cloud spread, filling the space with nearly unbreathable fumes. After dropping the spent wand, she ducked around the corner and nestled against the archway of the massive door before he could retaliate. Her spell was powerful enough to keep her invisible even as the wand fired, but he would be able to locate her based on proximity sooner or later; dragonbreath need not be accurate.

Step 1: Drive it from its lair.

“Insolence! You beg for death! I will kill all of you, and leave Applejack to bury your corpses!” Pyros roared.

The ground shuddered beneath her hooves as his massive form lumbered within the structure. He burst out of the hall beside her, barely squeezing his shoulders beneath the archway, and scanned the empty courtyard with his huge eyes. The bodies of five ponies were hidden there, concealed behind the remains of ancient pillars.

Step 2: Trap it.

A thunderous crack filled her ears. Above her, thick roots rippled through the stone of the archway, breaking it on Pyros’s back. The weight of the roof of the grand hall fell on the Dragon’s shoulders. He roared, his forelegs crumpling as the burden drove him to the ground. After side-stepping out of her hiding place to avoid a piece of falling rubble, Twilight glimpsed Fluttershy’s glowing eyes peeking from around a chunk of masonry.

Step 3: Hit it where it hurts.

Before Pyros could locate her and take out his anger, two crystalline shards launched from behind a piece of rubble, one after another, the second in the air before the first hit its mark. Rarity struck him in both eyes. Roaring in pain, he blinked the arrows from his eyes and shook his head.

Pyros gathered his limbs beneath him and started to lift himself up, the rubble above him shuddering. “You will all pay! You sting me like puny gnats, and I will crush you!”

Step 4: Exploit its weakness.

Rainbow Dash dropped from above, whispering beneath his chin like a gust of wind. She flared her wing and touched the tip of one of her wingblades to his chest. Sparks flew as she cut a line through his armor across the top of his scar. As Rainbow pulled out of her dive and disappeared around the corner of the building, Twilight stepped in front of the dragon and raised both her swords. She dug both blades into his chest and cut a V in his armor. Celestial Fury’s golden aura barely fazed him; he freed himself in an instant with his bulk. When she pulled her blades free, blood spilled from beneath his skin, outlining a red triangle in the middle of his pale scar.

Step 5: Expose its vulnerability.

“I know where you are!” Pyros shouted.

As Pyros sucked air into his massive lungs, Twilight ripped and tugged at the piece of armor that she and Rainbow Dash had cut free. Something kept it attached. A moment later, Pyros opened his maw, flames glowing in his throat. Focused on her task, she swept Celestial Fury beneath the lifted plate, easily cutting the tissue that held the scales, and cast the triangular piece of armor aside. She wondered if he even noticed the tiny wound. Pyros breathed, and a torrent of red dragonfire washed over her. Her swords clattered to the steps. Immense heat surrounded her, but but she felt no pain.

Her world went dark.

Step 6: Misdirection.

Twilight opened her eyes, unhurt. Pyros’s fire had washed away her projected image, an illusory copy that carried her magic into battle while her real form lay unconscious. She picked her head up, peering over the curve of the fallen pillar she had hidden behind before casting the Project Image spell. She felt intense heat lingering in the air, and the far side of her cover glowed red in the aftermath of the Dragon’s breath.

“Applejack, now!” Twilight shouted.

Step 7: Hit it in the weak point.

Applejack whipped out from behind cover, her speed and strength enhanced by layers of magical power. She moved with ferocity, rapidly closing on the Dragon. Twilight glimpsed a foreign emotion in Pyros’s wide eyes as he watched Applejack bear down on him carrying the chain that had nearly killed him all those years ago: fear. A layer of protective magic tinted her fur blue when Applejack’s hooves hit the stones that still glowed red, warding away the heat.

Twilight watched while Pyros sucked in a breath and rose free of the rubble, desperately attempting to wash away the avenging warrior that rushed toward him with his dragonfire. Even with the Fire Protection spell, the sheer intensity of a direct blast would turn a pony to ash. His half-blind, wounded eyes struggled to track Applejack. Mere seconds after she started her run, well before he could unleash the inferno in his lungs, she arrived beneath the exposed hole in his chest. She carried her momentum into her strike, spinning her hindquarters towards him, and bucked with all her might.

The tip of her chain hit its mark, the spike clearing the way for hoofspan after hoofspan of thick golden links as it bored through Pyros’s soft flesh and into his beating heart. Applejack let go of the chain, and the remaining length flowed off her tail until the spike stopped somewhere deep inside the beast. Twilight saw nothing but shock in Pyros’s eyes. He raised one foreclaw and clutched his chest.

Applejack strode away from the Dragon, her eyes cold. The fire inside Pyros’s swollen lungs still boiled as his life faded away, glowing around the wound Applejack’s chain had left. His body began to fall, his head pointing skyward as his limp neck dragged it down.

With a tremendous roar, the flames escaped. They ripped through his neck and throat, bursting skyward in a brilliant conflagration and towering behind Applejack. She dug her hooves into the stones as the explosive wave of air hit her, holding her hat on her head with a forehoof as the wind whipped at her mane and tail, the Fire Protection spell glowing brightly. She didn’t look back.

Twilight stared in awe until Pyros’s head fell from the sky above and cratered the stone pavement near her hiding place.

Applejack tipped her hat. “Good plan, Twilight.”

Author's Note:

Editor: Idle Prose
Preread by: Extravagaunte
Preread by: Furutta
Editor: The Music Man

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